Long Day’s Journey Into Night
(China/France, 140 min.)
Dir. Bi Gan
It’s over fifty years since Susan Sontag in Against Interpretation admonished critics to supplant hermeneutics with erotics—to attend to surfaces instead of deeper meanings, physical sensations instead of intellectual readings. But staying on the surface without ending up superficial is still a hard trick to pull off.
This is what’s on my mind as I try to make sense of Bi Gan’s_ Long Day’s Journey Into Night_. The film, Bi’s sophomore effort, repeats many of the gestures in his first film, Kaili Blues. Most obviously, both use a bifurcated structure in which an elliptical, somewhat convoluted first half is followed by a virtuoso long-take second but a larger budget has allowed him to achieve a new level of sensory sumptuousness in his new one.
Though Bi draws on a litany of influences that ranges from Hitchcock, David Lynch and Hou Hsiao-Hsien to authors Roberto Bolaño and Patrick Modiano, the film’s neo-noir, doomed-romance moodiness reminds me of nothing so much as Wong Kar-Wai’s most beguiling film, 2046.
What Bi does in Long Day’s Journey Into Night is juggle genre archetypes—the woman with a past; the moody hero; drab bars and hotels; allusive voiceover—along with evocative motifs of his own invention. How they all fit together is less important than the sensations they invoke. The uncertainties that the film glides on—is the woman at the end the main character’s long lost love? Is the kid in the cave his long-dead friend? Where is he, and where has he been?—are expertly handled; it doesn’t keep you guessing so much as it rewards submission. Plot, after all, is often the least satisfying part of film noir, a mere pretext for stylish set-pieces and the emotions they can call up. Long Day’s Journey Into Night just cuts to the chase, refusing to pin down any particular narrative while diving deep into style.
In a way, then, it takes on the logic of dreams. And just as interpreting dreams is less rewarding than reveling in them, it’s not necessary to figure out exactly what happened in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. It was a fun ride.